A must-read for 2007:
The Changing Face of War
By Martin van Creveld
DNI Review by Fabius Maximus
April 30, 2007
Available on Amazon and B&N
The gift of hope is perhaps the most valuable thing an author can provide us. The Changing Face of War is a must-read book because in it Martin van Creveld provides us with the second best gift: demolishing false hopes. Only after we clear our minds of misconceptions and baseless optimism can we begin the long process of adapting to a world in which a new form of war has obsoleted our current armed forces and ended the military dominance of the western developed nations.
Van Creveld describes our problem in a mild voice, without hyperbole.
Bookstores’ shelves groan under the weight of volumes proclaiming that the End is Near, and that today is an inflection point in human history. Global Warming, Peak Oil, The End of History, etc. Unlike such sophistry, van Creveld shows the current state of warfare as the result of long-term trends. He is well qualified to do so, as the author of seventeen books which cover the range of the military arts – including logistics, command, technology, gender, and history.
Only after firmly putting current events in a larger context does he move to analysis of how we and our foes fight, and why. This approach puts van Creveld in the mainstream of the literature on “fourth generation warfare”, alongside experts such as Col. Hammes, Col. Richards, and William Lind. These works focus more on diagnosis than providing a cure. After all, correct diagnosis must precede a cure. An analysis of 20th century wars comprises the largest part of the book.
The other major current in literature about modern warfare gives solutions, as seen in works by experts such as Thomas Barnett and Lt. Col. Nagl. In the last chapter van Creveld strikes a note of tempered optimism, showing how events in Iraq and Afghanistan suggest that our current fighting doctrines need drastic revision.
In effect he recommends for us receptive openness to observation and new ideas, innocent of false preconceptions – a foundational state from which we can move forward. He also provides a few tips. Not solutions, but pointers in the direction from which remedies might be found.
Typically book reviews tell you what the author said, filtering the thoughts of a great mind through that of a lesser one. That’s not necessary here. In only 270 pages The Changing Face of War provides a concise summary of van Creveld’s vast body of work on military theory and practice – and the best description to date of a serious danger we face. It is an easy read due to the clarity of his vision and the grace of his writing.
This book is a must-read for two kinds of people:
Buy it or borrow it, and read it. Or wait five years to read a simple version of his thinking in Parameters, or wait ten years to read a dim version in the Times.
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Although van Creveld is perhaps the foundational source for those writing about fourth generational warfare (4GW), he does not use the term "4GW." His 1991 book, The Transformation of War is still considered one of the best studies of warfare where one opponent is something other than a state army.
“The Changing Face of War” is also the title of the seminal article which introduced the term 4GW (Marine Corps Gazette, October 1989, by William Lind et al). It is also the title of a collection of essays from the Royal Military College of Canada, published in 1998 and edited by Allan D. English. Several articles since then have used also used this phrase in their titles.
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